Net Zero Energy Building Certification Defines What Net Zero Really Means

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Guest editorial by Lloyd Alter. Design / Green Architecture 

One of the problems in the green building world is the lack of clarity in the terms used. I have been complaining about the term Net Zero Energy for years, claiming that it had little to do with green building at all, that “you can make a canvas tent net-zero if you have the money to put enough solar panels on it.” There was no real satisfactory definition, no rigorous certification.

That is not true anymore; the Living Building Challenge has developed the Net Zero Energy Building Certification and it is rigorous indeed. They note the need for it:

Net Zero Energy is quickly becoming a sought after goal for many buildings around the globe – each relies on exceptional energy conservation and then on-site renewables to meet all of its heating, cooling and electricity needs. Yet the true performance of many developments is overstated – and actual Net Zero Energy buildings are still rare.

The certification verifies that the building actually operates as claimed, “harnessing energy from the sun, wind or earth to exceed net annual demand.” It can’t be a canvas tent, either; there are other requirements from the Living Building Challenge that must be considered:

Limits to Growth (in part): Curbs the building’s contribution to the effects of sprawled development, which undermines the positive impact of achieving net zero energy building operation.

Net Zero Energy: Serves as the primary focus of Net Zero Energy Building Certification.

Rights to Nature: Ensures that the building does not preclude another building from achieving net zero energy operation as a result of excessive shading.

Beauty + Spirit and Inspiration + Education: Underscore the notion that renewable energy systems can be incorporated into a building in ways that are attractive and inspiring. Read More.